It’s difficult to comprehend the sheer importance of Sri Lanka’s tea country on a global scale when you see that it is still largely, if not entirely, cultivated by hand. But this region plays a significant role in the global market due to its rich tea production in the western foothills of Sri Lanka’s highlands.
Aside from the financial benefits of tourism and some exported commodities like rubber and cinnamon, tea ranks as Sri Lanka’s number one export and it does so while pumping out some of the finest quality teas in the world—generating nearly $700 million annually. But profitability aside, Sri Lanka’s tea country is by and large one of the most beautiful areas in the country.
With vivid green sloping hillsides, colonial architecture, and sprawling tea plantations, Sri Lanka’s tea country is worlds apart from the tropical southern beaches and arid central plains of its wider-known and promoted locales. The cool temperatures (we were in long pants and sweaters during our stay), relative humidity, and abundant rainfall make this region ideal for tea cultivation, but it also makes for a comfortable visit for its human counterparts.
That last part is important, because Sri Lanka’s hot and humid climate is not for everyone. Tea country provides a bit of a reprieve from the oppressive heat in other regions and for that alone, it’s a worthy waypoint on anyone’s itinerary.
As a whole, the people of Sri Lanka are incredibly warm, inviting, and beautiful. They’re a people who work for what they have and put less a value, than say Americans, in that in which they don’t. They smile when you take their photograph and invite you in for a meal regardless of whether they know you or have never met before. In Sri Lanka’s tea country, the essence of an affable and approachable persona is alive and well.
With over 1 million people employed by the tea sector in Sri Lanka, the hillsides are dotted with thousands of residential structures pinned in between pockets of vegetable crops and tea trees. Here, you’ll find a large population of Tamils. When coffee gave way to the influx of tea in 1800s’, Sri Lankans were hesitant to join the workforce, so Southern Indians were brought in instead. The population flourished and to this day, they make up a prominent majority of the populace along the foothills of Sri Lanka’s tea country.
In my experience, I found the smiles more innocent. The expressions, both happy and not, weathered and the cracks of work and strain endearing in a way that tells a story. I’m not in a position to know whether the work they do is oppressive or enjoyable, but from my lens, I can say that the particular beauty in the people before me is profound. There’s a pride and a history that garners a pedestal in this area and it requires a particular amount of valuable time amongst them—my one regret is that I didn’t have enough of it.
Check out this great video on the region from Matthew Allard.